Tag Archives: Breakfast Briefings

Blogging migration research

All of my COMPAS blogposts, which I have featured on this website, have now been migrated to the new COMPAS website and archived in one place. Here they are, with links to the new permanent url:

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The experiences and concerns of white working class communities: Not racist, just resentful

My latest COMPAS blogpost, as part of my series on the Breakfast Briefings I organise for COMPAS at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue in Westminster:

In continental Europe, governments, civil society and academics are increasingly likely to repeat the mantra that integration is “a two-way process” involving both migrants and receiving society. All too often, though, governments place the emphasis on only one point side of the equation: on the duty of migrants to fit in. Similarly, integration scholars relentless scrutinise migrant and minority communities. The Open Society Foundations’ At Home in Europe programme wanted to address the other side of the coin: what about ordinary members of majority populations, those amongst whom migrants are enjoined to fit in? In particular, what about marginalised members of majority populations – those who might feel dislocated or left behind by the processes of change that migration has come to stand for?

This group – conventionally categorised as “the white working class” – is a constituency often spoken for in the migration debate. In an early COMPAS Breakfast Briefing, Ben Rogaly and Becky Taylor describe this as the discourse of the “beleaguered natives”. British politics has since provided no shortage of illustrations of this discourse. In 2011, David Cameron, talking about “a kind of discomfort and disjointedness in some neighbourhoods” created by migration, invoked the image of “the chat down the pub” to signal which kinds of neighbourhoods he meant. In 2012, David Goodhart wrote of “certain places, like the working class suburbs of south London… where the liberal tolerance of metropolitan Britain was not embraced”. In 2014, immigration minister James Brokenshire claimed that “a wealthy metropolitan elite” of “middle class” households have benefited from immigration while “ordinary, hard-working people” have suffered. In April, Dulwich College-educated former banker Nigel Farage claimed that UKIP “represent[s] the interests of working people… We are speaking for these people. They have got nobody else to speak for them.”

In short, lots of people speak for the white working class when it comes to migration. But how often are white working class voices themselves heard in the debate? Daniel Silver and Amina Lone of the Social Action and Research Foundation, in research presented to the May COMPAS Breakfast Briefing, set out precisely to listen to, record and communicate working class voices.

Higher Blackley

Daniel and Amina’s research took place in Higher Blackley in North Manchester. This is a mainly working class, mainly White British neighbourhood, where voter turnout is low but where the BNP took over a quarter of the vote in the late 2000s. What is behind that BNP vote? Are the white working class a beleaguered tribe of racists?

Daniel described a kind of triple marginalisation experienced by areas such as High Blackley. As a site of post-industrial unemployment (an ICI factory used to employ a large proportion of the area’s breadwinners), it experiences economic marginalisation; feeling neglected by the mainstream parties, it experiences political marginalisation; stigmatised in the media as feckless scroungers, it experiences social and cultural marginalisation.

Daniel cited the work of Tracy Shildrick and colleagues for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation on the “no pay, low pay” cycle in post-industrial communities (which more recent JRF research found affects one in five workers in the UK) to explain the dynamic in High Blackley. This cycle of insecurity affects people’s well-being (Dan presented a shocking chart showing the dramatic rise of prescriptions for anti-depressants in Greater Manchester since 2009).

Community resilience

But Daniel also argued that the media and politicians too often frame communities such as Higher Blackley as a “problem”, erasing the rich web of community support amongst families long-resident in the area.


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The evidence on migrant integration in the UK

My March COMPAS blogpost was on Jon Simmons (of Home Office Science) who presented a Breakfast Briefing on what we know about the reasons for migration and the social and economic characteristics of migrants in the UK. The whole post is here. This is an extract.

Convergence over time

The third report, conducted with the Office for National Statistics, Social and Economic Characteristics by Length of Residence of Migrant Populations in England and Wales (published in September and based on detailed analysis of the 2011 Census), reveals some key features of newer and longer term migrants, and degree to which people coming from abroad retain their difference, whether through cultural effects or long-term disadvantage, and the degree to which they become more like the population of which they have come to be a part.

Jon’s presentation looked at this question in a series of domains: economic activity, housing tenure, language proficiency, national identity and naturalisation. In terms of economic activity, migrant outcomes converge over time with those of the UK-born. Newly arrived EU migrants are much more likely to be employed than UK-born and non-EU migrants are much less likely, but these gaps rapidly start to close after five years and eventually disappear. Similarly, newly arrived migrants are concentrated in the private rented sector and locked out of owner occupation and social housing but eventually overtake the UK-born in the owner-occupied sector. Unsurprisingly, longer term migrants become proficient in English, identify as British and become citizens.

However, Jon also showed that there are big variations to the picture when you look by country of origin. For example, Bangladeshi- and Pakistani-born people are less likely to catch up the labour market and in English language, but more likely to catch up in the housing market and most likely to identify with Britishness. Irish-born migrants are very likely to become owner-occupiers, but very unlikely to identify with Britishness or to naturalise. Continue reading


What does it feel like to be flooded?

This is the opening of my latest COMPAS blog post. You can read the whole thing here.

The media monitoring project at the Migration Observatory has analysed thousands of UK news articles on migration from the last few years, showing which words are most often associated with migrants – and the same finding was repeated more recently specifically for Romanians and Bulgarians arriving in 2014. One finding was how often, across both tabloids and broadsheets, words suggesting water were used as a metaphor for migration, such as flood, influx and wave. In one recent example, Michael Fallon, a Conservative minister, echoing Margaret Thatcher in the 1970s, described “whole towns and communities” in the UK “being swamped by huge numbers of migrants.”

Fallon particularly mentioned England’s East Coast, and his comment was made as two coastal constituencies switched their votes to the anti-immigrant UKIP. It is interesting that it is in coastal areas where anti-migrant sentiment – the feeling of being swamped and flooded by migrants – is strongest. Oddly, though, these coastal areas typically have some of the lowest numbers of migrants in the UK.

Many of these coastal areas, however, face a very different and very real flooding risk. Research shows that our coastal areas are vulnerable to climate change because of rising sea levels and wave heights and accelerated coastal erosion. The deprived and “left behind” seaside communities which UKIP is targeting may be especially vulnerable because of their reliance on the coastline for economic and social activities, because of ageing populations, deprivation and isolation, which negatively impact on resilience and hamper adaptation.

These issues are hard to think about; many of us tend to bury our heads in the sand rather than face up to the enormity of the challenge of climate change. Perhaps thinking about immigrants is easier.

But for many communities globally, the flooding has already long begun.

The photographer Alessandro Grassani, in his work Environmental Migrants: The Last Illusion, has produced extraordinary images of Bangladesh, which give some hint of an idea of what it might be like to be flooded: to live life knee-deep in water, to earn your livelihood beneath the rising sea level, to have the waves literally at your door.

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Understanding foreign fighters

This is a short version of my latest COMPAS blog post. Read the whole original here.

This summer, it emerged that a young woman brought up near where I live in Lewisham, South London, had travelled to Syria to join ISIS. I spent some time reading her Twitter interactions with other young British women with ISIS ion Syria and Iraq. Most of the Twitter accounts are now deleted, but on the whole they were little different from any tweets by any South London teenagers: written in the familiar shorthand of social media conversation (“LOL”, “c u l8er”), accounts of shopping trips, mentions of best friends, complaining when the wi-fi was poor, comments on the weather. But the Lewisham woman’s profile picture was of an infant boy, presumably her son, holding an AK-47. Sparsely interspersed among the banal chitchat, were casual references to meeting Yazadi slave women or to beheadings. And, in one of the last posts before the account went offline:

Any links 4 da execution of da journalist plz. Allahu Akbar. UK must b shaking up haha. I wna b da 1st UK woman 2 kill a UK or US terorist

Foreign fighters in ISIS and other jihadi groups are regularly reported in the news media, and our politicians have been increasingly talking tough about them. But what do we really know about them, about their profiles and motivations?

muslim militantsNovember’s COMPAS Breakfast Briefing addressed these questions. Our experts were Rachel Briggs, a Senior Policy Analyst with our Breakfast Briefing partner, the Institute of Strategic Dialogue (ISD), and Peter Neumann, a Professor of Security Studies at Kings College London, and the founding director there of the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation (ICSR). The evidence was based on a series of important and innovative research projects at ISD and ICSR (listed at the end of this post), using social media analysis and face-to-face encounters with foreign fighters to build up a rich picture of their actions and their networks.

As is our usual practice, the oral briefings are podcast on the COMPAS site, while the discussion afterwards was under Chatham House rules. In this blogpost, I briefly summarise the key points from the briefings, and then discuss some of the wider issues touched on in the discussion, before finishing with links to information on ICSR’s and ISD’s work in this field. You can listen to the podcast here. Continue reading


The Bulgarian tsunami

This is an extract from my latest COMPAS blog post. Read the whole original here.

In a week in which a government minister described parts of Britain as “swamped” by migrants and “under siege”, it is clear that the language we use to talk about migration is vitally important.

newsprintMany commentators, especially those who are broadly “pro-migration”, blame the media for creating a public discourse of hostility to immigration through its use of inflamed language and scare-mongering statistics. Others, especially those who are broadly “anti-migration”, defend the media as simply responding to public fears and concerns, reflecting back an issue on which voters feel passionate. But what evidence is there about the content of media messages on migration?

Most of the research on this issue is drawn from fairly small samples of data: typically either just one or two newspapers or very concentrated timeframes. Now, however, in the age of “Big Data”, digital tools enable researchers to mine much larger bodies of material. The Migration in the Media project at Oxford’s Migration Observatory does just this.

This project was the focus of the launch of Series 5 of COMPAS’s Breakfast Briefings. As described in previous blogposts, our Breakfast Briefings are aimed to bring evidence to bear on policy debates relating to migration. The Migration Observatory’s Will Allen opened our series by providing an insight into how the media frames these debates.

Will presented a piece of research, co-authored with Olivia Vicol, in which all UK print media mentions of Bulgaria, Bulgarians, Romania or Romanians were analysed, in the year ending in December 2013 – that is, in the year leading up to the lifting of transitional controls on labour migrants from these two new EU states. A total of 4,441 news items – over 2.8 million words – were trawled to get a detailed descriptive picture of how the British media portrayed the issue.

You can listen to Will’s briefing as a podcast here, look at his slides here, and download his briefing summary here. Continue reading


The Light of Evidence 3

This is my latest post on the COMPAS blog. Read the original here.

COMPAS’s original brief was to conduct research that provided new evidence, challenged assumptions, developed theory, and informed policy and public debate in the migration field: this remains true today. Our work has explored changing migration processes and outcomes. But informing migration policy has been an equal crucial part of our mission.

We have argued that academics play a key role in public life in addressing the gaps in the evidence base, interrogating underlying assumptions, and investigating the development of migration policy itself. In particular, we have worked to bring our own research, and that of the wider community of migration scholars, to bear on political and policy debate in the UK, with the hope of shaping a more fact-based – and less emotionally and ideologically driven – conversation about the phenomenon that is so central to our changing world.

In this spirit, for the last four years, COMPAS has organised monthly Breakfast Briefings in Westminster, to bring the latest research evidence on a range of migration-related issues to a policy-making audience.

These Briefings were funded from COMPAS’s core grant from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). Now that our ESRC core funding period has ended, we remain committed to productively contributing to policy debates in the UK and beyond, and we are very pleased to have won funding from Oxford University for a range of Knowledge Exchange activities which we will launch after the summer, including a continuation of our Breakfast Briefing series. We are grateful too to the Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD), an independent thinktank in Westminster which hosts the Briefings, making them accessible to policy-makers.

I summarised the 2011/12 series here and the 2012/13 here. In this post, I will describe some of the highlights of the 2013/14 series.

Local impacts of migration

The series began with a briefing by Jon Simmons, the head of the Migration and Border Analysis for Home Office Science, focusing on the local-level social and public service impacts of international migration, based on an important recent report from Home Office Science (which I blogged about here).

Earth “Global Village”Using a large suite of variables, the report allocated the local authorities of England and Wales to twelve clusters, ranging from “superdiverse London” through “Rural and Coastal Retirement Areas” to “Low Migration Small Towns and Rural Areas”, each with different types of migrant populations. Then the experiences of local authorities were analysed to start the processes of unpacking the huge variations in the social and service delivery implications of different types of migrant populations.

Jon’s briefing zoomed in on “Diverse conurbation centres”, such as Birmingham and Bradford, where long-settled BME populations have been augmented by on-going migration from the global South; “Migrant worker towns and countryside”, places such as Boston, Breckland and Thanet, with very few African and Asian migrants but large numbers of EU accession migrant workers arriving among an ageing, stable and relatively ethnically homogenous population; “Prosperous small towns”, such as St Alban’s or the towns of the Cotswolds, economically vibrant areas to which long-settled migrants are moving; and “Industrial and manufacturing towns”, such as Hartlepool or Merthyr Tydfil, deprived areas with among the fewest international migrants and most stable populations in the country.

The variation between such places – the very different ways in which migration patterns are re-shaping each of them – shows why our migration debate needs to go beyond the simplistic and frequently alarmist facts and pseudo-facts so often thrown around. But it also points to key gaps in the evidence base on migration at the local level. Understanding how place matters in migration and its impacts – capturing Britain’s new cartography of diversity – has become a research priority for COMPAS. Continue reading


At the COMPAS blog: The Light of Evidence 2

This is my latest blogpost at the COMPAS blog. The original is here.

Working in a migration research centre, I have come to dread the point in the conversation with a stranger when they ask what I do. From cab drivers to school gate acquaintances, everyone seems to have an opinion on migration – usually a strong opinion, almost always an ill-informed one.

A recent poll by Ipsos Mori for the Royal Statistical Society found that we, the British public, think 31% of the UK population are immigrants; in reality, it’s just 13%. We think 30% of the population is Black or Asian and 24% is Muslim; it’s actually just 11% and 5% respectively.

flash lightOf course, the media and politicians play a major role in shaping such dramatic misperceptions, and perhaps there is relatively little academics can do to shine the weak light of actual evidence on to public debate.

I recently participated in a very interesting piece of research by Home Office Science on the vital question of the local impacts on public services, local economies and social cohesion associated with different kinds of international migration. I wrote a blogpost for The Conversation on the media misrepresentation of the report, probably partly shaped by the way the report was spun by the government to fit a particular agenda. A fellow academic wrote in OpenDemocracy on the same report, but argued that the very framing of the research questions was inherently problematic and that scholars need to be much more wary of collaborating in government research on this topic. While agreeing with many of his criticisms, my view is that the risk of getting our hands dirty by intervening in public debates is necessary if our work on social issues is to speak beyond the ivory tower.

One of the small ways in which COMPAS attempts to bring evidence into public debate is the Breakfast Briefings we have been organising for the last three years: monthly briefings from researchers on key immigration topics, aimed at Westminster policy makers. The Briefings aim to make complex issues easy to digest and provide a neutral forum for informed debate on the implications of the research tells us. I wrote a post here a year ago, entitled “The Light of Evidence” on the previous series. This post is about the 2012-13 season. Continue reading


The Light of evidence

My new post at the COMPAS blog:

Although COMPAS is probably best known for its migration research, the P in its name stands for Policy, and it is part of our mission to inform policy-making and public debate. As David Cameron has acknowledged (echoing the words of the immigration minister, Damian Green, at the launch of our Migration Observatory), “immigration is a hugely emotive subject … and it’s a debate too often in the past shaped by assertions rather than substantive arguments.”

Along with the Observatory, the COMPAS Breakfast Briefing Series has been part of our attempt to bring the light of evidence to an area of policy-making too often clouded by emotions and assertions. Once a month, generously hosted in the last two years by the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund in Westminster, we have invited migration experts to present evidence on topics of political import to an audience of decision-makers.

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